Vietnam has suspended flights to the UK and South Africa to prevent the spread of a new variant of coronavirus in the country, according to local media on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered the suspension of flights carrying Vietnamese nationals to the two countries, the daily Vietnam News reported.

The step was taken ahead of the country’s annual Tet, or Lunar New Year holidays, which begin in February this year.

The reportedly more contagious variant of the novel disease was first reported in Britain, with one such case recorded in Vietnam after being repatriated from the UK.

One of the least affected countries by the pandemic, Vietnam has maintained a strict policy against COVID-19 and has closed its borders since March last year to stem its spread.

It has allowed a limited number of flights to bring its nationals from overseas, besides select foreign business executives and experts who have been allowed to enter the Southeast Asian nation.

The country has reported just over 1,500 infections, including 35 deaths, since the outbreak.

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